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Mart Laar, PM of Estonia, on the enlargement of EU

Address by Mart Laar, Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia
at the Sixth Baltic Sea Conference on
Stability and Security through Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region
Baltic Sea Policy: a Responsibility for the Whole of Europe
in Lübeck on 14 October 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is indeed no other way of putting an end to the Stalinist division of Europe than to enlarge the EU. I fully agree with those who see it as a moral obligation. But let me not conclude at this point. As a Prime Minister I have to confess that moral principles are as a rule followed much more closely when supported by down-to-earth practical considerations.

First. We should acknowledge that the EU has benefited a lot from the previous enlargements. It has grown from a limited regional club to a union which is able to provide its citizens with prosperity, security and freedom of movement across a large part of our continent. Europe has maintained its place in the world which it could have lost by preserving its traditional fragmentation. Uniquely and perhaps surprisingly the EU has helped each and every nation in the union to secure its national identity, to be even more proud of it.

Second. Our task today is to get the next enlargements of the EU right. To reap the benefits and to avoid previous mistakes. The still existing post Cold War divide is viewed differently. From the East it is seen as more and more anachronistic. From the West it is often looked upon with fear — like a dam which has to keep the floodwaters out but is cracking beyond repair. Nothing can add more to the fear than talks of a ”Big bang” to happen at some unspecified, unpredictable time.

The top achievement of European political culture is the rule to see people not as a crowd but as a body of truly individual human beings. This approach should enable us to see not a floodwater but a set of highly different candidate countries. Small and large, southern and northern, orthodox, catholic or protestant. Take any indicator you like and you will see that the applicant countries differ more from each other than they do compared to the EU 15. Some candidate countries resemble their neighbouring EU members more than their brethren in fate.

Reform, as Tony Blair said in Warsaw, should be the only entry ticket. There would be no point for Estonia to join a book club with free subscriptions.

Two possible mistakes should not be repeated in next enlargements:
A. political decisions solely based on wishful thinking and
B. making one candidate country the hostage of another.
The latter could turn close and co-operative relations among candidate countries into bitter disengagement.

Third. The river of the enlargement process should get firm banks. It might be nice to lean back and see how the play goes on, but this is not how Europe works. I can not agree with the argument that sticking to the Copenhagen criteria would delay enlargement. On the contrary, only a clear roadmap can make the task both fast and safe. The citizens of the EU need to know that enlargement will not resemble smuggling. They need to be sure they will not get a surprise shoot-yourself-bill to pay for it one morning.

Each citizen of the EU has the full right to know when the next enlargement will occur. Therefore the realistic consensus emerging around an early and perhaps limited first wave of enlargement is more than welcome. It is realistic to achieve a breakthrough in the negotiations during the Swedish presidency. It is within reach to conclude the negotiations with some more advanced candidate countries in 2002. It would be just in time to welcome the first new members in 2003. To draw this timetable does not require a major brainstorming effort but a simple and honest analysis of the current state of the negotiations. What it takes to follow this timetable is the right proportions of political will and pragmatic approach. Following this timetable offers a minimised risk compared to any ”bang” model, big or not so big.

Again: nothing creates more fear about the future than uncertainty. Nothing could damage a politician more than a refusal to speak out clearly. And the EU always needs a clear target date to accomplish any task.

Setting a realistic target is important for the candidate countries as well. I am not going to deny the costs which enlargement will involve for the EU. However all the reforms in the candidate countries are first of all shouldered by the local taxpayer. Estonians know that they make all the reforms for themselves, that the reforms we make have to be made anyhow. It is clear which steps we have to take, but there is a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to the order in which we do it. Some changes in taxation, for example, are mandatory for getting ready for membership obligations. On the other side they may overburden the public opinion if made too early. Estonians are quite pragmatic and straightforward: if for years someone!!1s words and deeds do not match not much credibility will be left. I believe Germans and Swedes think alike.

Last, but not least. The best way to help our own thinking and that of our countrymen is to look around and see. Here in Lübeck and in my home town Tallinn the Hanseatic past tells the same story: all this great effort we speak so much about is nothing but a return to normality — a return to normality for our region and for all of Europe. We have prospered together. We should prosper together again.